SafetyCulture Summit 2021
Learn about quality assurance and quality control, their differences, and the three quality assurance and quality control methods you can use to boost your quality standards and practices
Published 24 Aug 2021
Quality assurance (QA) is a system of principles, methods, protocols, and procedures established and maintained by a company to ensure that the quality of their products and services is consistently high and compliant with organizational and regulatory standards. QA assists workers in meeting quality objectives for each product or service rendered.
Whereas QA is focused on the manufacturing process or the processes involved in producing the output, quality control (QC) is the quality inspection of products to evaluate if they pass certain quality standards before being shipped out to customers. QC aims to catch deficiencies in quality while QA aims to prevent deficiencies from occurring.
Quality Assurance and Quality Control | Start with this Basic QA Inspection Checklist
Good quality assurance and quality control are two of the most important elements of a successful operation. Achieving, ensuring, and maintaining the quality of your goods and services are paramount to making your customers happy and keep them coming back.
“Quality is everyone’s responsibility.” – W. Edwards Deming, engineer, statistician, professor, and author
Products and services of good quality create demand, meeting demand generates profit, and profit is used to create supply and meet demand. This is the cycle of success which starts when a company achieves, ensures, and maintains good quality through quality assurance.
People have varying ideas on what quality is supposed to be. Yet, in the context of products and services they pay for, the work they provide, and the life they aim to live, each person desires and strives for good quality. Though people can be frugal when they want to be, most are willing to pay more for products and services they judge to be of good quality. This is the reason why successful companies go to great lengths and spend considerable amounts of time, money, and resources on quality.
A quality plan is a collection of documents or a comprehensive document that specifies quality standards to be met, provides processes to be followed, and identifies resources needed to produce an output that meets customer specifications. With quality assurance, quality control, and quality management as its elements, a quality plan also helps ensure that the product or services align with organizational goals and objectives.
Built by a project team and usually based on PDCA technique, a quality assurance plan is a document that provides a guideline with the intent to produce products or services that meet customer requirements and expectations.
A QCP is a document that provides processes and defines milestones in production where products or services are to be inspected to ensure that they are meeting specifications.
While both aim to catch deficiencies in quality, QAP intends to lay down processes aiming to produce output that performs as expected while QCP aims to catch deficiencies in output usually through inspections.
QAP intends to prevent defects in output.
QCP catches defects in output.
Whether QAP or QCP, both quality plans follow a process that aims to achieve the highest quality possible. Here is an example of a quality plan template that is universally recognized: ISO 9001:2015 quality plan template.
ISO 9001:2015 (download as PDF)
This section contains a brief overview of the history of quality assurance and quality control as well as a beginner’s introduction to the common ISO standards in use today.
In the middle ages, manufacturing and commerce enjoyed a period of growth that helped artisans gain prominence as valued craftsmen. Guilds became an important factor in this period’s product and service quality, similar to today’s ISO.
A guild is an association by the workers, for the workers. Typically, each territory would have their own merchant guild (sellers of goods and services) and craft guild (blacksmiths, masons, bakers, haberdashers, and other workers that serve the essentials of daily living).
Guilds screened applicants and shouldered the apprenticeship costs of new members. Aside from training guild members in the industry’s best practices, guilds also performed inspections to ensure that the products and services of their members complied with the accepted standards of the time.
The next significant period in the development of QA and QC was the First Industrial Revolution. According to Prof. Christoph Roser, it began in 1715, when Englishman John Lombe went to Italy to copy an Italian design for a mechanized silk loom. In subsequent years, division of labor was put into practice. This made the entire production process more efficient and improved quality assurance because it allowed workers and machines to focus on a single task.
In the early 19th century, Americans Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford advocated industrial efficiency, with the latter becoming famous for developing the assembly line as a method of mass production.
ISO is the International Organization for Standardization, with a current membership of 165 countries or national standards bodies. It is the world’s leading authority and regulatory body for safety and quality standards in manufacturing and service.
ISO standards are specific criteria set by ISO to cover different aspects of business and manufacturing operations. To earn a coveted ISO standard certification, a company has to request and pass a third-party ISO audit performed by a national or regional certification body.
Aside from boosting your company’s trustworthiness in the eyes of clients and consumers, having an ISO standard certification also gives you an advantage over your competitors who have not yet acquired theirs.
To date, ISO boasts almost 22,000 standards and certifications covering a wide variety of operational aspects. Below are some of the most common standards companies strive for:
Last updated in 2015, ISO 9001:2015 specifies the requirements for a company’s QMS (Quality Management System). It aims to assess an operation’s ability to consistently deliver high-quality products and services while meeting customer expectations and relevant statutory and regulatory requirements.
ISO 22000 provides requirements for developing and implementing a Food Safety Management System (FSMS). This certification is a must-have for companies in the food processing and food service industries.
Another popular ISO standard, ISO 27001 is concerned with a company’s ability to implement an effective Information Security Management System (ISMS) in order to keep confidential business information safe from unauthorized access.
The ISO 31000 certification sets the standard for frameworking, designing, implementing, and maintaining a risk management system on a company-wide level.
Last updated in 2018, ISO 45001 sets the international standard for Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) Management Systems. Failure to comply can lead to incidents, cost overruns, and even lawsuits.
Other notable ISO standards include ISO 14001 (Environmental Management), ISO 17025 (Laboratory Testing), and ISO 13485 (Quality Management of Medical Devices).
Modern manufacturing SOPs (standard operating procedures) vary depending on the industry, nature of the business, business size, and branding. What highly successful corporations have in common, however, is their use of the tried and tested QA/QC methods listed below.
After Motorola pioneered the use of Six Sigma in the mid-80’s, several companies across a wide range of industries have since adapted it as a standard business practice.
Six Sigma is a problem-solving method that aims to reduce defects and manage variations from set internal specifications. The term “Sigma” in statistics refers to the standard deviation from the mean or average of a process data set.
As a concrete example, a process needs to have a maximum of only 3.4 defects per one million opportunities to be considered of “Six Sigma Quality.”
Six Sigma has three main goals:
In order to obtain Six Sigma certification, management must first determine if they’re trying to improve an existing product or process or create a new one.
The DMAIC methodology is used to improve existing processes that fail to achieve set goals:
Define customer needs and expected results.
Measure relevant empirical data such as current performance.
Analyze available data and do a root-cause analysis to accurately identify the real problem instead of its symptoms.
Improve the current process by conceptualizing solutions from the expected output, current performance, and identified root cause.
Control the new process to avoid deviations beyond standard limits. This step may be done as many times as needed until the process has been optimized to meet project goals.
By contrast, the DMADV methodology is used to come up with new processes or products of
Six Sigma Quality:
Define goals for product design and functionality based on customer needs and the organization’s identity.
Measure the viability of ideal production rate, product capabilities, and possible obstacles or causes of failure.
Analyze objectives to develop optimal design.
Design a product or service based on the available information.
Verify design through rigorous testing.
As Toyota rose to become one of the top automotive manufacturers in the world, it also popularized Lean (or Lean Manufacturing), a management philosophy later adapted by other companies.
The primary focus of Lean is to identify and eliminate “waste” in the production process in order to improve overall efficiency. “Waste” is described as steps and/or arrangements deemed unnecessary by logical analysis and which must be discontinued.
More specifically, Lean aims to identify the presence of and eliminate the “Seven Deadly Wastes” detailed below:
Though numerous companies apply Lean principles to their operations, their techniques and tools of choice may vary. Below are some of the most widely used tools and techniques for practicing Lean:
The 5S system focuses on organizing the workplace, ensuring that items, equipment, documents, and other workplace staples are in their proper places so that work performance can improve organically through management and safety.
Step 1 – Sort (Seiri)
Step 2 – Set in Order (Seiton)
Step 3 – Shine (Seiso)
Step 4 – Standardize (Seiketsu)
Step 5 – Sustain (Shitsuke)
PDCA (or PDSA) is a problem-solving technique developed by W. Edwards Deming that aims to accomplish the following:
Another staple in Toyota’s business process is the A3 Report, referred to as such for it being a one-page report usually printed on A3-size papers. The A3 Report uses Deming’s PDCA/PDSA problem-solving technique to identify, eradicate, and prevent problems in operations.
Toyota pioneered multiple manufacturing and management models that have become business standards in several organizations, and 5 Whys is no exception. This Lean technique is used by team managers to identify the root cause of a problem by asking “why” five times until it is discovered.
Here’s an example of 5 Whys in action:
Problem – The team failed to meet last month’s sales quota
Root-cause – There is no process for assigning who is in charge of monitoring materials
Kaizen is a Japanese term that means “change for good,” but is more loosely translated in the west as “continuous improvement.” What makes it different from other process improvement methods is that it aims to involve the entire organization, from top management to the assembly line workers, in its implementation. Having a Kaizen Culture in your organization means each individual, regardless of rank, is empowered to look for opportunities to improve every day, no matter how small.
Listed below are some of the most common Kaizen implementation tools used by companies:
SIPOC is a mapping tool with the primary objective of ensuring clarity in process workflows. By doing so, unnecessary activities are discontinued, accountability becomes clear, and the overall process is optimized for maximum efficiency.
Performing a gemba walk means that executives, on a regular basis, will walk around the actual space where the work is being done (be it the production floor of a call center or a manufacturing plant) in order to observe objectively, understand the process, ask questions, and identify opportunities for improvement. Its goal is to ensure that upper management learns how things are actually done, instead of simply commenting on and reviewing individual work performance.
The 8D Report or the Eight Disciplines Model is a problem-solving technique used to contain, resolve, or prevent issues identified in a product or process by quality engineers and other responsible personnel. Initially only used by the automotive industry due to Ford’s influence, it is now widely used in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, and retail, with great success. The 8D Report is a comprehensive method that aims to eliminate problems by identifying and attacking its root cause(s). It achieves this by utilizing a combination of expertise, data analysis, management tools, and data validation.
To come up with a great product or service, management can’t just sit back and let the business take care of itself. A truly successful and sustainable operation has an effective QA/QC strategy to keep product and service quality consistently high across all stores, branches, and service centers.
Having a dedicated QA/QC Team composed of personnel with the proper credentials should be a priority. Even in start-ups, where funding is limited and time-frames are shorter, a good quality team can help your operation meet or even exceed performance goals.
Before creating a team, consider the employee’s knowledge of your specific product/service along with prior experience in the same industry before they joined your company.
Often, top performers are screened for the QA role because they have a good understanding of what makes the product/service work and what the customers want, so that supply and demand are reconciled. Being a top performer is also a good indication of an individual’s diligence towards their work, something the quality team is expected to exercise at all times.
It may sound like a no-brainer, but plenty of quality teams, especially when starting out without a tested template to follow, make the elementary mistake of not clearly defining what success means for their product or service.
Quality teams must consider the current performance of their product and/or service, define a SMART goal, and then strive to eliminate all of the processes, steps, and obstacles that do not contribute to the achievement of said goal.
Aside from the ones mentioned previously in the article, there are many other QA/QC methods available today. While Six Sigma, Lean, and Kaizen offer generally applicable procedures for improving overall quality, using the right tools to implement these methods increases their effectiveness.
A high standard for quality assurance and quality control makes all the difference between established global brands and struggling businesses. The entire organization, from top management to frontline workers, must be dedicated in creating a culture of quality and safety for all members to do their best work.
Quality control procedures ensure that manufactured products conform to predetermined quality criteria or meet customer requirements. Improving quality control is vital for the continued success of any business in manufacturing and production. Consistently delivering high-quality products through processes that are at par with industry standards and looking out for ways to further improve quality control can help your business stay on top.
Involve all employees and gain their buy-in and commitment to adhere to the organization’s quality standards and processes. Conduct onboarding for new hires and refresher training for tenured employees to help them understand that maintaining the quality of products and services is everyone’s responsibility, not only of leadership or the quality management team.
Reinforce quality control procedures through regular quality checks and immediately address nonconformance discovered during internal audits. Discuss improvement opportunities during employee trainings. Keep employees up-to-date on new processes and encourage them to share best practices and provide suggestions on how to further improve quality.
Documentation of quality control monitoring is not only required in maintaining quality and safety standards but is also a resource for continuous quality improvement. Conventional paper-based recordkeeping methods can be cumbersome and time-consuming, preventing some auditors from regularly documenting internal checks. Utilize automated digital recordkeeping to save time and ensure that internal checks are consistently recorded.
Conduct customer surveys, review incident reports, learn from past mistakes in your organization and others in the business, stay up-to-date with industry best practices, and be on the lookout for new technology that can help improve processes and implementation of quality standards in your organization.
Save time and maximize resources for quality control by using new technology such as sensors that automate monitoring of quality parameters and mobile auditing tools to record and analyze information that paper audit forms cannot capture.
Listed below are different examples of QA/QC, including templates for each area or type of operation. Utilizing the right quality assurance and quality control template for the job can help boost efficiency, prevent downtime, and ensure worker safety.
“Quality is everyone’s responsibility,” claimed the renowned engineer, professor, and management consultant W. Edwards Deming. Quality assurance, however, is a continuous process. A process that becomes harder to complete when the complexities of large-scale production and servicing are introduced. In order to stay true to a company’s promise of quality, something as simple as an effective QA inspection checklist can be the X factor.
Below are the principles QA inspection checklists must follow in order to become effective:
Creating a product or rendering a service is a step-by-step process. Often, each step is handled by a dedicated department specializing in that section. For this reason, acquiring input from the different experts that are actually involved in the process is important since it informs your QA inspection checklist with data and insights founded on solid bases.
A good QA inspection checklist informed by the expertise and insights from relevant stakeholders is only as good as its effective implementation. To keep quality output consistent throughout the entire organization, quality assurance officers must ensure that the same QA inspection checklist is being used by all sites and branches. This minimizes product quality variation between manufacturing sites and locations.
The processes and standards of operations evolve due to numerous factors over time. Since a QA inspection checklist serves as one of the final checkpoints before a product or service is deemed fit for delivery, organizations must ensure that the standards enforced by their QA inspection checklist is consistent with their current quality standards.
Budgets, preferences, and laws all influence a company’s decision to favor one type of QA practice over the other. Some companies even choose to employ a hybrid of internal and external QA practices to achieve and maintain compliance with quality standards. Regardless of your QA method of choice, each has its own pros and cons.
Successful businesses, regardless of their product or service, value quality. Valuing quality means investing in the right resources in order to consistently deliver at the highest level. Using iAuditor by SafetyCulture as a versatile mobile inspection app, businesses can achieve and maintain quality in their products and services by taking advantage of the following features:
Available on Android, iOS, and the web, iAuditor is a customizable mobile quality and safety inspection app mainly used to improve and maintain safety and quality in numerous industries. iAuditor offers a number of ready-to-use quality and safety templates, as well as tools that can be used by organizations where Quality Management is crucial in maintaining the quality of products and services in conformance with industry standards.
Juhlian Pimping has been writing about safety and quality topics for SafetyCulture since 2018. Before writing for SafetyCulture full-time, Juhlian worked in customer service and wrote for an Australian RTO.
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